Responding to Bossiness
and Bullying by Someone Who
Reports to You


Were you to quiz employees on business etiquette, most likely everyone would regard bossiness and bullying as out of bounds.  When what appear to be balance of power issues arise, others in the workplace can feel intimidated when they witness unprofessional acting out. My knowledge on this subject is pooled from friends in the corporate world.

What Bossiness and Bullying May Look Like

Does an employee show these patterns?

  • Needing to always be right and have the final say, regardless.
  • Unwillingness to admit the need for change.
  • Passive aggressive behavior that causes others to look over their shoulder.
  • Demoralization and blaming of others.
  • Jumping into conversations between manager and another employee to give instruction or correction.

Manipulation and control may be the ultimate goal with these kinds of behavior. Additional examples include:

  • Giving orders or defying the leadership role of others.
  • Micromanaging or manipulating by withholding necessary information to be in control.
  • Teasing, taunting, interrupting, spreading rumors, blaming, and publicly embarrassing.
  • Breaking, intentionally losing, or damaging personal or office supplies.
  • Undermining projects.
  • Setting the boss or others up for failure.
  • Non-compliance, avoidance of instruction, and judgmental or accusatory tone or criticism.

These behaviors are not only disruptive, but they also intimidate others and cause division and confusion in a team structure. It is up to leadership to manage situations like this to ensure a cohesive team stays intact.  

Take Immediate Action

The sooner the issue is handled the better for everyone.  When a person comes to understand they can get away with bossiness and bullying, the negative behavior will continue and may even escalate.  

Redirection must be made by leadership.  An initial conversation with the employee might determine why the behavior is taking place, or if the employee is even aware of their negativity.

Speak to the employee alone in an etiquette-ful and sincere way.  You are aiming to discourage the behavior, not the person.

  • “John, sometimes your light teasing is funny, but some of us felt that what you said in our team meeting earlier crossed the line.  Did you realize what you were saying?  Come on, we need your expertise!"
  • “Chris, I experience your corrections as bossy.  Do you understand that you’re coming across that way?  We need you on these projects, but your behavior is counterproductive."

Consider what the person believes they need that they are not getting.  Is the person aware of how they are coming across? 

Many times, especially when an employee is in the midst of a personal issue or crisis this is the root cause of their actions, a conversation like this will result in behavior correction.  Or the person is more aware of the effect they are having on the team and will moderate their negativity.

However, if change is not forthcoming, additional assistance is necessary.

  • Get support and possible intervention of others in the organization who have more influence.
  • Is the organizational structure an underlying problem?  
  • Involve others to assess organizational structure for creating a way to air needs and employee concerns.

A Learning Opportunity for Management

Investigating how you might be viewed in your leadership role is an opportunity to learn.  
Do peers and employees view you 

  • As a micromanager
  • As unfairly or unequally delegating or dividing the workload
  • As someone whose standards are unrealistic
  • As someone who is egotistical and unappreciative

The best work relationships and workplace productivity occurs when there is mutual respect between executives, managers, and employees.  Consider the following in your own Leadership Integrity Self-examination:

  • Do I etiquette-fully aim to keep civility integral to my leadership?
  • Do I communicate with the maintenance staff, administrative staff, and direct reports with the same respect as those in leadership roles?

Recognizing how you might contribute to your employees’ behavior – negative or positive – is a mark of a good leader.  There will always be outliers, but when respect and trust are the major aspects of work relationships, you can be assured that productivity will be consistent. 

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